Text by Hannah Jones
The weather is cooling down and the days are shorter, which means harvest season is finally upon us! While getting in your garden might be the last thing on your mind right now, don’t let these precious and fruitful months slip past you! Fall is wonderful time for both florals and crops—it is called the harvest season, after all. Even if you’re not ready to get growing, it’s always a good idea to start tending to your garden to prepare it for a cold winter so it’s ready to go again come spring. Find your plant hardiness zone below and find out what you can start sprouting up this season!
For those wanting to dive into vegetable gardening this season, autumn is the perfect time to do it! Amy Enfield, horticulturist at Bonnie Plants, says, “The weather in the fall is ideal for growing cool-season vegetables. The days are warm but not hot and the nights are cool which are the perfect temperature conditions for most plants.” In addition to near-perfect temperatures, gardeners can also expect to find fewer pests and insects crawling around than in the spring and summer. Though, Amy notes that it’s important to remember that if you’ve grown a summer garden, your soil will need to be replenished with nutrients from compost or new soil added in.
Central Canadian border
The fall season in Zone 3 sets in quickly and is gone almost just as fast, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the bounty! Opt for quick blooming flowers, like goldenrod (and no, it doesn’t cause hayfever!), Joe Pye weed, New York Daisy, helenium, stonecrop, and sedum. Don’t forget to plant those winter pansies, as well! Keep an eye out for any freeze warnings and be sure to protect your precious plants if there’s a frost expected. “Be sure to check for the average first fall frost date for your area. Then look at the number of days to harvest for the vegetables you want to plant,” Amy says. “Use them to determine when you should plant your fall vegetables—add around 2 additional weeks since growth slows down as the weather cools and daylight decreases.” Root vegetables are wonderful for higher zone gardens thanks to their quick maturity rate. Beets, carrots, radish, turnips, and garlic are all great options according to Amy. Members of the cabbage family perform well with a slight frost, so broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage could be top contenders here. When it gets too cold to continue, harvest your remaining blooms and crops and compost healthy annuals and fallen leaves. It’s also a good idea to take stock of your garden’s failures and successes over the growing season. What did well? What didn’t? Take note and use it to plan for next year. It’s an extra step that takes little time that you’ll never regret!
Upper Great Lakes and Northern New England
Zone 4 has a little more freedom when it comes to planting in autumn versus Zone 3, but don’t expect the season to last too long. That first frost will come soon, and while it’s worth it to cover your plants the first few freezes, it’s a good idea to bite the bullet and prep for winter after that. Though, all is not lost when frost sets in—in fact, some plants and veggies appreciate a little freeze! “Plants can be protected from early season freezes/frosts much like plants are in the spring. Cover them with a blanket, cardboard box, or plastic tunnel,” Amy says. “Several vegetables that are ideal for fall planting actually have their flavors enhanced after they’ve been ‘kissed’ by a light frost (i.e., carrots, beets, kale).” Russian sage, Japanese Anemone, asters, and rudbeckia are great options for Zone 4 autumn gardens. Towards the end of the season, take note of what performed well in your garden and what didn’t to plan for next year, and then harvest your remaining crops and begin composting dead leaves and annuals.
Upper Midwest and New England
These areas experience some of the most beautiful fall color—enjoy it! Zone 5 is also perfect for many autumnal favorites, like asters, mums, anemone, dianthus, rudbeckia, and more. You might also have some fun venturing into leafy vegetables in this zone, like lettuce, spinach, kale, or swiss chard. As mentioned before, lookout for the first few frosts and prepare accordingly. When you’re ready to close down for the season, take notes on your garden’s performance, harvest any healthy crops, and start composting.
Southern Midwest and Upper South
Zone 6 has plenty of breathing room when it comes to fall planting. Though a few initial freezes might come early, those are few and far between and can usually be quelled with sheets on top of plants. One of the most important notes for gardeners in Zone 6 is to not plant too early! “Since many of fall vegetables need to go into the ground in late August or September, a late season hot spell can be challenging,” Amy says. “Make sure you keep fall vegetables well-watered. Adding mulch around the base of the plants will help keep the soil cool.” Flowers like mums and aster can die if planted in weather that’s too hot. Wait for temperatures to settle with highs of around 75 degrees before planting your autumn blooms. Zone 6 is ideal for a variety of fall flowers, like mums, aster, tickseed, coral bells, and ornamental kale.
As mentioned with Zone 6, be sure to not plant your autumn garden too early! Hold off until your temperatures have settled into true fall weather, so your beautiful blooms don’t pass. In addition to the plants in Zone 6, Zone 7 might be able to venture into a few tropical varietals, including the beloved croton.
Similar to Zones 6 and 7, don’t plant too early and be sure to tend to your garden throughout the season. Fall favorites like goldenrod, mums, and aster might not perform as well in the deep South thanks to the long-lasting heat. Fall can be a turbulent time in this zone, with temperatures varying greatly from week to week, so opt for hearty plants that can survive the season and focus on maintenance. A high note for Zone 8 gardens: your summer blooms that wilted in the heat might make a return for a few weeks! You can also hang on to the beauty of late summer flowers, like autumn-favorite dahlias.
Zones 9 and 10
Tropical areas in Texas, California, and Florida
Now that the summer heat is finally fading away, gardeners in Zones 9 and 10 can start to have a little fun! You’re not likely to see any frost, so your main focus should be not planting too soon—keep an eye on those temperatures! Planting in early October is usually a safe time and you can expect blooms for a while—maybe even throughout winter. While some of the more delicate autumn varietals might not be best for these areas, helenium, croton, oriental kale, stonecrop, tickseed, and celosia are safe bets.